Archive for July, 2012

Minor pitches gem, Braves beat Phillies 5th straight time

If Mike Minor were still pitching like he did in April and May, the Braves would be trying to trade for two starters instead of one.

But he’s not. The young left-hander has been a far better pitcher the past two months, including Saturday night when he limited the Phillies to four hits and one run with nine strikeouts in eight innings of a 2-1 win at Turner Field, the Braves’ fourth in a row.

The Braves scored two runs in the first three innings and held on to beat the Phillies for the fifth consecutive time and the sixth in eight games this season, moving to a season-high 12 games over .500.

Minor (6-7) retired the last 13 batters he faced and 14 of 15 after Chase Utley’s home run in the fourth inning cut the lead to 2-1.

“Today he was about as good as I’ve seen him,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “If you don’t have the best closer in the game sitting out there in the bullpen, and you get a couple more runs, you may want to run [Minor] back out there [for the ninth …

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McCann follows Chipper’s lead, switches to ash bat

For his first 10 ½ seasons in professional baseball, Brian McCann had sworn by maple bats. But something changed after he felt a little uncomfortable at the plate one night last week against the Giants and he picked up an ash bat, like the one Chipper Jones swears by.

The result was a game-tying two-run home run to the opposite field off Santiago Casilla. McCann was convinced.

“I’ll never go back,” he said.

He gave Jones an affable shove on his way into the dugout that night, acknowledging that Jones had been trying for years to get him to swing ash. McCann went on to hit three more home runs in his next seven games entering Saturday’s game against the Phillies.

“He’d been using maple for a long time and hasn’t been able to hit the ball out of the ballpark to left field and center field,” Jones said. “Now all of a sudden he’s doing it, since he made the switch. I’m sorry; I don’t think that’s a coincidence.”

Maple is a denser wood with a harder surface than ash. Ash is more …

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Simmons progressing well in recovery from broken hand

Shortstop Andrelton Simmons is progressing well in his recovery from the broken bone in his right hand and is expected to be out of his cast in one more week.

Simmons was examined Friday by specialist Dr. Gary Lourie and told he should be out of his cast next week, at the four-week mark they projected.

“I was hoping for no cast at all,” said Simmons, who was X-rayed and fitted for a lighter, more comfortable cast on Friday. “But the doctor said we need one more week to make sure it gets calcified and stuff.”

Simmons would begin rehabilitation exercises shortly thereafter. He said he’d like to be back after about a week back doing baseball activity, including minor league rehabilitation games, though that’s probably pushing it from the Braves’ point of view.

Simmons has been antsy since shortly after he broke his fifth metacarpal, the knuckle of his pinkie finger, Sunday, July 8 in Philadelphia. He’s been staying in shape by running, and he’s even taken some one-handed …

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Braves plan to start Medlen in place of Jurrjens

This time, it really looks like Kris Medlen is moving from the Braves bullpen to the starting rotation.

“We’re going to go in a different direction, give Med a chance,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Saturday after announcing plans to start him Tuesday against Miami in place of struggling Jair Jurrjens.

Medlen was sent to Triple-A Gwinnett on May 29 to build arm strength in preparation for a possible switch from relieving to starting duties. Two weeks later the Braves brought him back and decided to keep him in the bullpen, opting instead for Jurrjens in the rotation after a two-month stint in Triple-A.

With that in mind, this time when the Braves told Medlen he would be starting Tuesday, they did so with a caveat: If the team can pull off a trade for a starting pitcher in the next couple of days, Medlen would stay in the bullpen, where he’s filled a valuable role as a bridge between the starters and top relievers.

“The last thing you want to do is give him a false sense …

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Braves wouldn’t make Tex-like mistake again on Greinke

When I hear people complain about the Braves not beating the Angels’ offer for Zack Greinke, I’m surprised at how quickly some here have forgotten about the Mark Teixiera trade while others bring it up Every Single Time that the Rangers are in the news, and each time a couple of the five prospects the Braves traded to the Rangers in that deal make the All-Star team.

So some of you'd have given up two or even three top prospects for two months of Greinke, huh? How soon we forget this man and the four top prospects the Braves traded to get him.

So some of you'd have given up two or even three top prospects for two months of Greinke, huh? How soon we forget this man and the four top prospects the Braves traded to get him.

To update on four of the five prospects sent to Texas in that deal: Elvis Andrus is a two-time All-Star and was AL Rookie of the Year runner-up in 2009; Neftali Feliz was an All-Star and AL Rookie of the Year in 2010; Matt Harrison was an All-Star this season and is 26-14 with a 3.23 ERA in 40 starts in 2011-2012; Jarrod Saltalamacchia has 20 homers, 46 RBIs and a .515 slugging percentage in 79 games this season for Boston.

They were all …

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Braves top Phillies on third straight win by Sheets

If the Braves needed to drown out any sorrows Friday night, after watching one of their top trade targets, Zack Greinke, acquired by the Angels, Ben Sheets was the perfect man for the job.

Sheets keeps making his own case for being one of the biggest acquisitions in the majors this month. He pitched six strong innings, allowing one run, to win his third straight game for the Braves, 6-1 over the Phillies.

The 34-year-old with the bionic arm is now 3-0 with a 0.50 ERA since returning from two years out of the game following two elbow operations.

The former four-time All-Star for the Brewers built up his arm strength in his backyard, pitched a simulated game for Braves scouts at Georgia Tech while in town coaching his son’s Little League team, and now he’s given up only one run in 18 innings.

“It was all upside,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez of signing Sheets to a minor league contract. “And good for (Braves general manager) Frank (Wren) to think outside the box a little …

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Braves postgame quotes after Friday’s win vs. Phillies

BEN SHEETS

On settling back down after first two hitters:

“As a pitcher that’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to find a way, find a way to make pitches.”

On Fredi saying he studies hitters and reacts one pitch to next, if he’s always done that:

“I’m just scared out there really (laughing). It’s definitely not the stuff that I’m accustomed to pitching with. Just making good pitches with all of them. I’ve got a different arsenal but it’s definitely redundant to say but it’s all about putting the ball where you want to put it, whatever you throw. Even if it’s a terrible pitch, if it’s located well it’s OK.”

On if more comfortable 18 innings in:

“Really and truly, it all feels the same and I think that’s good. I think that’s consistency. My mechanics feel the same, my location feels good. Everything feels the same.”

On physically:

“Physically I feel fine. I feel great. Today I threw more change-ups. I guess it’s good when you’ve got different pitches. You can find one that’s …

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Braves lose out on another trade target

In a span of five days the Braves have seen trade possibilities with their top two targets on the market foiled.

On Monday, Cubs right-hander Ryan Dempster failed to approve a deal that would have sent Dempster to the Braves for right-hander Randall Delgado, then on Friday, the Brewers traded Zack Grienke to the Los Angeles Angels for shortstop and two Double-A pitchers.

The Braves haven’t ruled out Dempster, who has said he still might accept the Braves trade before the July 31st deadline, but the Dodgers are still clearly his preference and a team that might trade for him yet.

The same reason that the Braves balked at sending a prospect like Julio Teheran to Milwaukee is the same reason they’ll find it challenging to find another starter before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline – the cost.

Some of the remaining top-of-the-rotation pitchers who might become available like Miami’s Josh Johnson and Tampa’s James Shields will likely demand an even higher price in prospects.

“We’ve got …

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Braves sign Batista to minor league deal

The Braves signed 41-year-old veteran Miguel Batista to a minor league deal on Friday and will assign him to Triple-A Gwinnett. It was a move to add some pitching depth, and a right-hander who has shown his versatility over the years as both a starter and reliever.

The Mets designated Batista for assignment from their bullpen on Sunday. He was 1-3 with a 4.82 ERA in 30 games for them this season, including five starts. He had given up 53 hits in 46 2/3 innings, with 31 walks and 34 strikeouts.

“I look at it as some depth, guy’s got some experience,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

Batista is 102-115 with a 4.49 ERA over 18 seasons with 10 teams. He’s an avid reader and known to be a good clubhouse influence. Gonzalez said he made a good impression on Braves bench coach Carlos Tosca in 2004 when he was manager for Toronto and Batista a starter.

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Sheets vs. Hamels to open pivotal series vs. Phillies

(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien today.)

So the clock is ticking louder the closer we get to Tuesday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline, and while the Braves continue to pursue pitching help, they’ll send a guy to the mound tonight who’s been a pretty good acquisition this month already.

Ben Sheets makes his third start for the Braves tonight in the series opener against the Phillies, and he’s yet to give up a run. Sheets pitched six shutout innings to win each of his first two starts with the Braves, first against the Mets, then against the Nationals, and he’ll take aim tonight against the Phillies.

A former Gold Medal winner in 2000 games pitches for Braves as 2012 Olympics open tonight in London. Courtesy of Braves

A former Gold Medal winner in 2000 games pitches for Braves as 2012 Olympics open tonight in London. Courtesy of Braves

He’s facing Cole Hamels, who makes his first start tonight since signing his six-year, $144 million extension with the Phillies on Wednesday. Imagine Hamels is pretty motivated to have a good showing tonight.

And that would go for the entire …

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